By Leighah Beausoleil
William “Billy” Martin Joel is set to celebrate 50 years of artistry with the release of a new record collection Nov. 5.
This volume one collection will contain Joel’s first six studio albums, his first live album, and a never- before-released record of a live concert at the Great American Music Hall from 1975, according to the Billy Joel official website.
The website states, “All titles have been sourced from the original album tapes and prepared by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound. The box set includes a 50+ page booklet highlighting Billy’s early career through archival photos, an essay by Anthony DeCurtis, Billy’s personal observations and insights on his songs and albums, and tributes from his fellow musicians, artists and celebrities.”
Though this “Piano Man” has been playing music since he was a young boy, his first recorded album wasn’t released until Nov. 1, 1971, according to the website.
Joel had many difficulties in recording this first album.
“Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography,” by Fred Schruebers, describes the listening party that first took place when Joel got his hands on the album.
With his friends all gathered around, he placed the record on the turntable, and due to the album being recorded at the wrong speed, the music came out high-pitched and he was laughed at, according to Schruebers.
Embarrassed and enraged, Joel took the record out, ran outside, and threw it on the street – after a couple of skips the album shattered, according to Schruebers.
Despite these setbacks, “Cold Spring Harbor” features many notable titles, including “Everybody Loves You Now” and “She’s Got a Way.”
The tone of the album is much slower and softer than the music he would later write, but it captures much of the hardships Joel had faced up to that point in his life.
Included on the album is a song titled, “Tomorrow is Today,” which was originally a suicide note Joel wrote before an attempt, according to Schruebers.
The song has a melancholy sound to it with lyrics that describe the constant depression he found himself in day after day, “I don’t care to know the hour / ‘Cause it’s passing anyway / I don’t have to see tomorrow / ‘Cause I saw it yesterday.”
This softer sound carries onto the next album he would release in 1973 titled, “Piano Man.”
Though this album is home to Joel’s most well known song, “Piano Man,” the rest of the songs don’t quite live up to his name.
Some of the tracks have more of a country tone, making them difficult to listen to. The album is not the worst, but knowing the kind of music Joel would go on to write, it’s hard to appreciate any of it.
The third studio album to be re-released is “Streetlife Serenade” from 1974. This album also carries on the softer tone and it is still clear Joel has not exactly found his sound.
However, the album holds one of my favorite tracks, “Los Angelenos.”
The rhythm of this song gives a hint of the style Joel would grow into in his future albums. The lyrics are catchy with a great beat.
Joel’s sound changed in 1976, with the release of “Turnstiles” – his fourth studio album.
This album saw the formation of the original Billy Joel band, including members Doug Stegmeyer on bass, Liberty DeVitto on drums, Russell Javers on guitar, and Richie Cannata on saxophone.
The combination of these musical geniuses were the key to Joel’s sound.
The album opens with “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” which was a tribute to the New York girl group, “The Ronettes,” according to the Billy Joel official website.
Immediately, the connections are clear within the first couple seconds of the track mirroring the start to “Be My Baby.”
The album was Joel’s return to New York, with two more tracks referencing his home state.
Joel and his band out did themselves with this album, notably the work of Cannata. There is nothing more iconic than the sound of the saxophone in Joel’s tracks, especially “New York State of Mind” with its classic sax solo.
Joel’s sound only got better from there, with the release of his fifth album in 1977, “The Stranger.”
Every single song on this album is a masterpiece in itself.
“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” is the first track on the album and tells the story of a grocery store worker who dreams of making it big.
The way Joel tells Anthony’s story makes the listener feel like they know him personally and that’s easy when the story is such a common one that people deal with.
The album’s title track is one of Joel’s most well known and one of his most beautiful.
It opens quietly with its iconic whistling done by Joel himself. The pace of the song picks up when the lyrics begin, “Well we all have a face / That we hide away forever / And we take them out / And show ourselves / When everyone has gone.”
Though Joel said in an interview with the Today Show that the song has no intended meaning and is up for interpretation by its listeners, he did say the song could be about a man dealing with schizophrenia.
No matter its meaning, everyone should listen to this song at least once in their life.
The sixth and Final studio album in the collection is my all time favorite by Joel. Starting my personal vinyl record collection, “52nd Street” saw yet another instance of the fantastic work of the Billy Joel Band with the addition of some jazz musicians as well.
Released in 1978 with songs like “Big Shot” and “Zanzibar” – there is a lot to love.
One of my favorites from the album, “Stiletto,” opens with Cannata’s fantastic saxophone playing – a key element of the song.
The track describes a woman who is tricking a man into believing she is good and then causing him pain when he least expects it, but she causes this pain in such a way that the man can’t help but still love her. Joel describes her as being “so good with her stiletto” that you don’t notice it is actually a blade.
His First live album, “Songs In the Attic,” released in 1981, will also be included in the collection.
Joel is an amazing live performer and each song sounds even more incredible than its original
recording. This album is able to captivate its audience almost as if they were actually there in concert.
He chose some of his best songs from his first four studio albums and I couldn’t be happier with how it came out.
The last record included in this collection is the unreleased live performance at the Great American Music Hall in 1975. Though I’ve never heard it myself, the concert’s set list does not look the greatest.
All of the songs sang at this concert came from the albums where Joel was still working on finding his sound. However, none of the songs are outright bad and Joel has proven himself as a live performer, so perhaps the record will be an unexpected hit.
So what can we celebrate in Joel’s 50 years of artistry? A whole lot.
Though his beginning albums saw him still getting his footing as a musician, it is amazing to see how he has grown into the iconic artist he is today.
His songs still find their way into TikTok trends. He plays an important role and influence in modern day music, with Olivia Rodrigo name dropping him and his song “Uptown Girl” on her latest hit album.
The Billy Joel Band broke up many decades ago, but still found themselves being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014 for their work with Joel, including Stegmeyer posthumously.
Following their induction, DeVitto, Javors, and Cannata came together with a few other musicians as the “Lords of 52nd Street” and continue to perform today.
Fifty years later, Joel’s music is still impacting people’s lives and I’m sure it will for another 50.
This collection holds so much history, beautiful artistry, and growth that people should not pass up on.